Deconstructing Kanye

by Alex Ashe

In recent years, Hollywood has embraced the trend of adapting one story into two movies. It’s an annoying trend that exists primarily, if not solely, to maximize box-office revenue and will endure for the foreseeable future, at least until audiences revolt against it. That being said, some stories are just too eventful to tell in one film.

For better or worse, by the time Hollywood produces a Kanye West biopic (and they will), the two-part treatment might actually be warranted, as ludicrous as it sounds.

It’s an idea that seems even crazier when you consider West’s infamous reputation and that, unlike most rap icons, he comes from a relatively ordinary, middle-class background. Someone so detested with an unexceptional origin story wouldn’t seem like a subject of a biopic that people would rush to see. But that speaks to just how fruitful, controversial and influential West’s solo career has been so far, and it’s still not even a decade old.

Kanye’s role as a producer can’t be emphasized enough in charting his influence and success. He rose to fame by contributing a handful of beats to Jay-Z’s 2001 album The Blueprint, which elevated the latter to mogul status. In his solo career, his sonic genius has always outweighed his often lackluster, albeit improving, rapping skills, do much so that each of his albums contain moments that break genre conventions.

As an opening mission statement, an artist’s debut album can often define them for the remainder of his career. That’s especially true in hip hop, where historically a rapper’s debut is often their finest hour. Despite best efforts to replicate the mood and energy of their breakthrough, most rap icons haven’t been able to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. The initial success that puts a rapper on the map tends to be their main hurdle when it comes to establishing longevity.

Since releasing his 2004 acclaimed debut, The College Dropout, West has grown artistically at a rate that is unprecedented in hip hop, a genre that has since evolved seemingly at his dictation. He nixed the sophomore slump just a year later with the improved Late Registration, which saw him largely ditch his trademark soul-sampling beats in favor of more orchestral templates. West incorporated synthesizers into his similarly great third album, 2007’s Graduation, which also helped make Daft Punk a household name in the US. His most recent studio album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is a personal, sprawling epic, sampling the likes of King Crimson, Aphex Twin and Bon Iver. While not quite the perfect album that most critics labeled it, it is his strongest effort, quite an accomplishment considering the quality of his earlier work.

Even West’s lone blemish, the austere, Auto-tune-heavy 808’s and Heartbreaks still has its merits. A mess of an album, it’s still an artistically ambitious, noble flop that is largely responsible for the recent wave of terrific, progressive R&B from the likes of Frank Ocean, Drake and the Weeknd.

West performed two dark, hook-free songs on “Saturday Night Live” last month, suggesting that his next album, Yeezus (yes, really), will continue his uncompromising artistic growth.

The first decade of Kanye West’s solo career has been a rollercoaster ride full of artistic achievements and personal mishaps.

Though frequently loathsome as a person, his career has been a thrilling one to follow. It’s becoming increasingly rare to see a pop star so preoccupied with crafting a legacy, but perhaps Kanye is wiser than we give him credit for. His questionable antics will slowly but surely be forgotten. His music, however, will not.